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Public Statements

Disclose Act of 2012--Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. REID. Mr. President, Thomas Jefferson, one of our greatest Presidents, once said,

The end of democracy ..... will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed corporations.

Campaign finance reform protections we have in place--and have had for many years--have solved the problem Jefferson talked about by limiting political spending by corporations. Then out of nowhere came the Supreme Court to issue its Citizens United opinion, rolling back a century of work to make elections transparent and credible.

The result of Citizens United has been a flood of corporate, special-interest campaign spending by shadowy front groups with questionable motives. Not since the days of Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican who put a stop to unlimited corporate donations, has America seen this kind of out-of-control spending to influence elections.

Democrats and the majority of Americans believe the Supreme Court got it very wrong with Citizens United. Anonymous spending by so-called nonprofits, often backed by huge corporate donors or a few wealthy individuals, used to make up 1 percent of election spending. This year it will make up well over half of the spending. There is no question Citizens United opened the door for big corporations and foreign entities to secretly spend hundreds of millions of dollars to influence elections and undermine the fairness and integrity of the process. Let us look at Nevada. Through the first part of this year, more money has been spent per capita on TV ads in Nevada than in any other State in the country. Most of the ads have been funded by anonymous groups flush with cash from these huge oil interests, Wall Street, moneyed interests, foreign gambling interests, and other interests seeking greater influence in Washington.

Voters in Nevada and across the country deserve to know who paid for these ads. We have proven it is possible to remove the veil of secrecy from outside money and make the process more transparent. We have done that before and we need to do it again. We can require large political donors to disclose their identities so voters can at least judge their motivations for themselves.

Requiring large donors to disclose their entities is not a new concept. In fact, my counterpart, Senator McConnell, and many of his Republican colleagues, have supported this in the past. The legislation today before the Senate--the DISCLOSE Act--would require disclosure of donations in excess of $10,000 if they are used for campaign purposes.

The bill treats all political entities equally--whether unions, corporations, business associations, or super PACs. And contrary to Republican claims, this legislation would not require organizations to turn over membership rosters or lists of grassroots donors. Rather, it would prevent corporations and wealthy individuals from using front groups to shield their donations from disclosure.

Yet my Republican colleagues, with rare exception, have lined up against this commonsense legislation. Their newfound opposition to transparency makes one wonder who they are trying to protect. Perhaps Republicans want to shield a handful of billionaires willing to contribute nine figures to sway a close Presidential election.

If this flood of outside money continues, the day after the election 17 angry old White men will wake up and realize they have just bought the country. That is a sad commentary. About 60 percent or more of these outside dollars are coming from these 17 people.

These donors have something in common with their nominee. Like Mitt Romney, they believe they play by their own set of rules. Mitt Romney has refused to release his tax returns. I think everybody in America now knows that. From the one and only return we have seen, we know Mitt Romney pays a lower tax rate than most middle-class families. We know he has a Swiss bank account. We know he takes advantage of tax shelters in the Cayman Islands and tax shelters in Bermuda. But we can only guess what new secrets would be revealed if we could examine a dozen years of his tax returns. His father, George Romney, set the standard for Presidential elections. He released 12 years of tax returns so Americans could evaluate his record for themselves. His son should also let his records out so we can evaluate his record for ourselves.

Even nominees for Cabinet posts are required to release 3 years of tax returns and declare financial holdings worth more than $1,000. Romney's refusal to be open and honest would disqualify him from even being a Cabinet secretary. And his penchant for secrecy makes Americans wonder: What is he hiding?

Thomas Jefferson famously argued: Democracy depends on an informed electorate. If that is true--and I believe it is--it stands to reason disclosure can only strengthen our democracy. But don't take my word for it. As my friend Senator McConnell has said, ``Disclosure is the best disinfectant.''

Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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